On Yoga, Resistance and Letting Go

Content Note: Eating disorders, racism, harassment, objectification 

I don’t want to write this post. I have been turning the words over in my mind for two months, I have been holding these message deep in my body. I Sharing my struggles with anorexia, sharing my anger and frustration at social oppressions and whatever else I feel a pull to write about has helped me explore my own thoughts and reduce the self-imposed isolation that my eating disorder brings. I am writing a workshop on yoga and decolonial healing for a conference by and for women of colour, I’m also facilitating this workshop in a week at another event, so I should probably finish it, but before I can do that, I need to need to write these words.

 

I started casually practicing yoga midway through my undergrad, mostly through home practice and the occasional free class. As someone living with chronic pain, yoga was the go-to suggestion of health practitioners, and as annoying as that is, it has been a great coping mechanism for me. Yoga hasn’t taken away my chronic pain, but offers arguably more significant healing.

 

I was trying to remember a time where my body felt like it was consistently mine. Sure, I have had moments: making the decision to move out east, and 1,421km away from toxic relationships, the first time I went more than a month without purging or restricting, breaking up with a long-term love. My body has been exoticfied, objectified, controlled, shamed for being, but when has it been mine? My experiences are unique to me, but in no way unusual. Countless women will tell you how their first experience of a man objectifying and harassing them was when they were around 11 or 12. Thousands of people, of all genders, struggle with eating disorders, and pretty much every person of colour has felt othered and often exotified.

 

I recently realized how tired I am of explaining the colonial histories and diasporas that allow for my existence. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me in those moments. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me when men stand too close on the bus or a professional meeting ends when a hand on my lower back. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me because we live in a world that has consistently confirms this.

 

Since I was 13 years old, I have attempted to take control of my body back by destroying it, by trying to become invisible enough to fend off unwanted words and touch, to erase myself into whiteness. My eating disorder became a safe haven. My mother wanted me to eat pasta during the same time I was being told my anger was unwarranted (and unattractive), refusing dinner became my resistance. I destroyed myself as a form of misguided resistance. Women refusing to eat dates back centuries and is often connected religious sacrifice – the woman who is free from needs and wants is the most holy. My resistance was just what our patriarchal and white supremacist society demands of women. I detach from my body as a mode of survival. I stopped having desires because my desires to be heard were too much ™ I am still figuring out how to accept that being too much ™ is exactly what I should be.

 

Almost a decade after my eating disorder began, I started doing yoga. However, it wasn’t until my roommate invited me to try hot yoga with her that I truly began to connect with yoga, my inner self and finally my body. I lay on my mat after my first class feeling sweaty and giddy. I survived an hour long class in a hot room surrounded by strangers while wearing half the amount of clothes I normally do. I was thrilled, I was proud. I felt a little high. I joined the studio the next day and began a journey towards my body.

 

Eventually, as my body got stronger, I could move through asanas with ease and have fun trying (and falling out of) new poses. I lie on my mat before class and wait as the anxieties of my day slip away. I take a few cleansing breaths and take back my body and mind. I am not thinking of the dissatisfaction with my body (ok,sometimes I still am, but that’s why I’m doing all of this), I’m not thinking of body as the exoctic other, or as on inconvience,I am not thinking of my career or debt or anything but keeping my breath and settling into my body – as a whole, as mine.

 

Some of my teachers read a quote or tell a story at the end of the class, as their words float through the now quiet room, I lay on my mat and let them wash over me. I chose to come to my mat, I made choices in my body that felt right, I let myself breathe, and began to connect my body and mind. I have found the concept of decolonization confusing; I understand it on a political level, but when I would hear activists talk about decolonizing the self, I felt lost. It wasn’t until I surrendered myself to my practice that I began to understand. As I write this workshop, I realize that my work to decolonize my self will be ongoing, because the act of colonization is ongoing.
We speak of colonization, racism, and even sexism as things of the past. We’re colourblind now. The Canadian government pretends that their colonization of Indigenous peoples has ended. Women have jobs or something so we don’t need feminism. We speak of our body and mind in similarly disconnected terms. We were asked to write a letter to our body as part of my treatment program, I was viscerally uncomfortable for many reasons, but when I moved from “You” (my body) and “I” (my mind) to “We” (body/mind/soul), I felt as if I could breathe again, the lump in my throat grew smaller and I began to write. This is what we do when we practice yoga, this is what happens when we listen to the wisdom of our ancestors. This is where the healing begins.

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The Fall of ‘Great’ Men

Yesterday, I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed and noticed an article on Bikram Choudhury – founder of a self-named hot yoga method and all-around creep. Choudhury recently paid about over $7 million US to  Minakshi “Miki” Jafa-Bodden, who was wrongfully terminated after refusing to cover up the a rape committed by Choudhury. Jafa-Bodden was also sexually harassed by Choudhury and six other women have bravely come forward to accuse Choudhury of sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, Choudhury maintains his innocence. He also claims this lawsuit and another recent loss are sending him into bankruptcy. 2017 is only 4 days old and is already killin’ it.


As some of you may have noticed, American Apparel stores are shuttering their doors. Big signs waved by AA employees stating their American-made clothing is 50-80% off. I have always found AA clothing to be well-made and appreciate the fact that their factory workers are unionized and paid a living wage. It’s a shame that their founder, Dov Charney is a grade A(A) Creep™. Charney is no longer with American Apparel, but his legacy of sexual harassment poisoned the company. Of course, economic downturn and the fickleness of consumers may have something to do with AA’s downfall, but I like to think that Charney’s misdeeds and the implicit support of those around him in the company, contributed to the end of American Apparel. Of course, it is not Charney who will suffer the most loss, he moved on to another company and is probably still just as much of a pervert as before*. Those who will suffer  are the workers; AA’s intellectual property has been bought by another apparel company, Gilden Athletics,  and there is talk of moving the factory out of the US. The loss of skilled jobs and fair wages won’t hurt Charney. His misogynistic words and act will continue to haunt those around him as he prances (naked) on to his next business venture.

 

Charney and Choudhury may bounce back financially, but their wallets and reputations still took a hit. Prison sentences have been upheld as the ultimate justice for abusers and rapists, but it is so rare and does little to rehabilitate offenders, justice in the legal system seems mythical.

 

These two pieces of news may seem like hollow victories, as both these men will be able to walk free and start business’ and continue their lives trauma-free, but it also shows we are slowly learning to believe women. The women that came forward in both cases are incredibly brave, they stood up to public scrutiny, teams of lawyers, and their abusers. There are many forms of justice and healing that do not involve criminal courts, and the fall of great men is one of them.

 

As we move forward in 2017, we will no doubt continue to see ‘great’ men rise and fall. One of them is president-elect Donald Trump, who has publically admitted to sexual assault and has many, many accusers. Trump will become the next U.S. President on January 20th, 2017. His rise to power, despite rampant sexism, xenophobia, racism and implicit support of white supremacists, is a prime example of how far we still have to go. Our work is far from over, but the fall of Charney and Choudrey offer glimmers of hope for those working to end gender-based violence as well as survivors/victims themselves.

 

Money can buy freedom for many perpetrators, but there are rare (but ever increasing) instances of justice. Your paper got you this far, but you can’t buy your way out of your fall from grace. In 2017, let’s celebrate the fall of so-called great men and the rise of justice.

 

* I have no proof of this, don’t sue me.

 

Sources:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/bikram-yoga-lawsuit-1.3421547

https://www.thestar.com/business/2017/01/10/montreal-based-gildan-activewear-will-pay-88m-to-buy-american-apparel-brand.html

To the dude to told me to chill

First off, boy BYE

Your sad little lines reveal more than a lack of game

Don’t worry, I see your fragile

masculinity

I won’t punish you any further with my magic and grace

I won’t make you sit across from a queen,

while you desperately try to think of ways to cut down

women made of stars.

I’m too high for you, boy.

I’m a chill right here, boy

while I rise beyond your greatest dream

I’m a chill right here

far from you and your small mind.

So chill boy,

I won’t trouble you with my vastness,

So chill boy, I’ll keep shining.

Insta-no

I was scrolling through Instagram this afternoon and Ambertheactivist’s account came up under ‘Explore’, I follow her Creatingconsentculture account and have great respect for the activism she does around sexual assault and rape culture. Amber is a survivour of sexual violence and uses her experience to create important dialogue and support other survivours. All rad things. However, I was upset to see her post on Ambertheactivist featured below:

I was so disappointed to see this kind of image and accompanying caption on an activists account that I have such respect for. Not only is it triggering for survivours of sexual assault, but for those who struggle with eating disorders.

Shaming people for their food choice is fucked up in any situation, but comparing the act of consuming cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, and milk to supporting sexual violence is disgusting, misleading and belittles rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Sexualized violence is a huge problem in our society and in recent years, we have finally begun confronting the effects of rape culture. There are many amazing activists and organizations that work tirelessly to make our culture safer for everyone. However, when activists use something as serious and traumatic as rape to further their cause (veganism), they are not only hurting survivors, but making it harder for those who are working towards ending rape culture to be taken seriously by the boarder population.

I have been a vegetarian for most of my life and have dabbled in veganism, but it was directly related to my ED and much too restrictive for me to be able to in recovery. Not everyone, even those who have/had eating disorders have this experience. I have a few friends who are recovered or in recovery and are vegan. They are healthy and happy, and I’m happy for them. I have other friends who were vegetarian or vegan pre-recovery and now happily eat meat. Both of these things are perfectly fine. The only thing that isn’t fine is trying to push a diet or shame anyone’s food choices. Food and body shaming are still big problems in activist communities – as much as they are in other communities. From shaming folks for not buying local or organic, to mocking the foods of a particular culture, to shaming veganism posts – it’s all fucked up.

I have seen a lot of shame-y vegan posts on Instagram and after a pang of guilt, I usually select “See fewer like this” and move on, but this one got to me. I am angry, really angry at this. I am all for animal welfare and ethical farming. I try to buy free range eggs and if a pal asks for suggestions of local meat, I’ll suggest a butcher who I know treats their animals well. I may not eat meat, but I would much rather support a local farmer who cares for their livestock over a factory farm. However, comparing dairy production to rape is SO WRONG. I wish I could put this more eloquently, but I can’t. Not right now. I am so disappointed to see an advocate of consent, feminism and ending sexualized violence post something so insensitive. Women are often compared to animals – cows, pigs, kittens – various kinds of non-human animals. It’s a way of dehumanizing and delegitimizes women and their experiences. Women/femme folks are disproportionately vicitimized through sexualized violence, so to call dairy production “Rape” is beyond ignorant; it is a deplorable, triggering, and false statement. It is ok to disagree with how dairy is produced, it is ok to choose not to eat it. Support vegan business, cook for your pals, do what makes you happy, but there is never a reason to shame another person for their food choice.

The meme is terrible (it was not made by ambertheactivist, just reposted), but it is the caption that really upset me. Amber writes: “…that delicious vanilla creamer you put in your coffee this morning? A cow was raped for that milk.” My stomach dropped and I felt like I might choke when I read that. I had just finished a coffee after running some errands and enjoying the beautiful day. It took me 3 years to put cream in my coffee and not having a breakdown. I don’t always put in my coffee and I still feel guilty, but a little cream in coffee won’t cause my to cry or engage in behaviours anymore. I have the day off and really enjoyed my coffee, and as soon as I saw that post, guilt crashed down on me. I felt sick thinking of the comparison between dairy and a violent crime. I closed instagram and put my phone down. My mind was racing, but then it hit me: why should I let a stranger who posted this (probably without thinking) to control my choices? Through my involvement in  food activism, feminism and recovery advocacy, I have been slowly learning that my body is my own. It doesn’t belong to any man, to my eating disorder, to shame or guilt. I have been blessed with being able to access treatment a few years ago, to be surrounded by loving, supportive, rad people who validate my experiences, I have the educational background to understand  rape culture, feminist theory, food production and environmental issues. I am incredibly privilege to have the tools and support system that I do, but not everyone does. This post triggered me, but I can blog about it. I can rant to a friend about later if I want. Thousands of people will see that post, they may currently be in a violent situation, be a recent victim/survivour of assault, they could have an eating disorder, or a combination. They may not have the tools to deal with triggering and shaming posts like that. I am writing this less-than-stellar blog post to deal with it, I’ll probably call my Mum later, but it will still affect me. If we want to fully support survivours and anyone who is effected by sexualized violence, we have to be conscious is all of our actions and words. We all fuck up sometimes, and I hope the original poster/creator of that meme, Amber and others who repost, can take a step back and rethink their actions. There are many way to positively support animal welfare that do not capitalize on the trauma of those who have experience rape and sexual assault. I do not think this was the creator of the meme or Amber’s intention. I honestly think they are passionate about animal welfare and it was a terrible choice of words and way of writing. We need to be ok with calling-in our fellow activists. We need to acknowledge our mistakes and realize that we can reinforce aspects of rape culture without even realizing it. I hold great respect for animals and their welfare, but comparing dairy production a violent act that is predominately perpetrated against women is harmful to survivours and to our goal of ending sexualized violence.